Three N.C. Republican state senators filed a bill today to change North Carolina law involving “contributory negligence,” marking a dramatic shift in the ability of plaintiffs to win damages in lawsuits.
The state is one of only four in the U.S. that do not allow plaintiffs to collect damages if they are shown to have contributed in any way to a personal injury or other kind of harm. For example, if a driver moves ahead at a green light and is hit by another vehicle that runs a red light, he or she would not be able to collect damages if a jury concluded that the driver should have looked both ways before proceeding. It is sometimes called the “all or nothing” rule.
The Victims Fair Treatment Act was filed by N.C. Senators Danny Britt of Robeson County, Jim Perry of Lenoir and Amy Galey of Alamance County. Britt co-chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The bill would permit plaintiffs to recover damages to a degree depending on the relative negligence determined by the jury. If the claimant was deemed to be more at fault than the “combined responsibility of all other parties, ” there would be no recovery of damages.
It’s been about a decade since state lawmakers made a major effort to change the law, two people familiar with the matter said.
Other jurisdictions that still have a contributory negligence standard are Alabama, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.
Proponents of the contributory negligence standard say it helps avoid frivolous lawsuits.